Flower Power to Mars

Watching the President's state of the union address the other day was an experience best described in 60's lingo as "a bad trip." Suddenly, all of the horrific things that have happened over the past three years of this man's presidency were replayed in front of me in a surreal fashion. Hanging chads…jet fuel fires…anthrax-o-grams…Patriot Acts…highway snipers…runaway spending…indiscriminate invasions…the boozy twins…Paul Wolfowitz's bad haircut.

The room spun and went dark.

I "came to" several hours later in a cold sweat on my living room floor.

After returning from my ride in Bush's yellow submarine, I decided to clear my head by walking over to my men's billiards club for a quiet game.

As I reflected on the experience, my mind latched on to one odd detail: He wants to go to Mars??

I have heard psychologists explain that the human mind, in the midst of crisis, often latches on to some small peeve. This helps to focus the psyche onto something that is more manageable and less hopeless than the more menacing dangers at hand.

With that psychoanalytic insight, I can say without reservation that this Mars trip is an idiotic idea.

First, and most obvious to any real conservative, is the cost. I have seen wildly varying numbers on how much a Mars expedition would cost the US taxpayers, but there is only one thing of which we can really be sure: Whatever the final tally, it will be a great deal more than we are told up front. In all probability, a Mars trip will make Boston's multi-billion dollar "Big Dig" highway project look like an exercise in efficiency and frugality.

Secondly, there is an annoyance that I have with President Bush's generation. The baby-boomer 50-somethings have a bizarre attachment to JFK that continually pops-up in nearly everything that they do. Obviously, this Mars trip is Bush's attempt to mimic JFK's "moon landing" speech of so many years ago.

Look at the recent political candidates and leaders of the Democratic Party. Senator Kerry constantly brags about his initials. Senator Edwards sports a JFK haircut. Bill Clinton and Gary Hart mimicked his mannerisms (and his libido).

What is going on here?

Having been born a couple of years after JFK's assassination, I have never been able to completely fathom this "Camelot fetish." From my perspective, JFK was a mediocre to below-average president. His Bay of Pigs escapade was a disaster (that almost got everyone incinerated when the Soviets responded by putting missiles in Cuba, launching the missile crisis). His handling of South Vietnam (particularly the assassination of President Diem) was a catastrophe. His morals were nonexistent. His marriage was a sham.

The only thing that I can figure is that this obsession represents the first example of media-driven "symbolism over substance" of which we have become all too familiar. During JFK's presidency, TV was a relatively new medium. The burgeoning establishment liked his politics and wanted him to succeed…so they created the whole phenomenon. He was good looking. He had a beautiful wife. And the country was new to TV and got its first dose of its immense power.

The result was a mythology that was totally divorced from reality. And all of these "JFK wannabes" are the children of that first giant dose of propaganda TV…a habit which they have never been able to shake. (This also explains why my generation has much less attachment to JFK…we judge him solely on his actual presidency because we were not exposed to the hoopla that accompanied his life and death).

But all of these things pale in comparison to a much bigger reason for being opposed to a Mars mission. I can accept the JFK obsession as yet another manifestation of the immaturity that plagues the baby boomers. I can even swallow getting fleeced to pay for the trip. My money will, after all, only be taken and spent on something even more pointless…so what's the big deal?

Well, the one thing which I cannot abide is the inevitable politically correct circus that will accompany the choice of who will be the first person to set foot on Mars.

A Mars landing will be an historical event of immense proportions. The astronaut who first trods its surface will become immortal in human history. Those of us who observe and understand political correctness know one thing: this person will be no Charles Lindbergh or Neil Armstrong. Once each of the members of our pantheon of official victim-groups chimes in, there is no telling what we will end up with.

As proud as I will be when I watch America's first left-handed, transvestite dwarf astronaut hop off of his/her landing module onto the surface of Mars, it is the media's and academia's response that really gives me the chills. I can picture Katie Couric's tears as she interviews a sixth-grade teacher (with cheesy piano music in the background). We'll hear about how he/she couldn't make the basketball team because of the "vertical challenge." We'll see the plastic surgeon on Good Morning America, as he tells of the anguish surrounding the decision to finally go ahead with our hero's "operation." Our kids will suddenly be seen coming home from school with new "educational materials" emphasizing the contributions that transvestites have made to America's space program.

It will be "political correctness unchained." And God help the talking head who makes the "Donovan McNabb mistake" and actually insinuates that our hero was chosen because of his/her unique quota value. I can see in my mind's eye the purple-faced rage on Dan Rather's face as he denounces such Neanderthalic ideas.

It is far better to let the Russians to do this. They will simply pick some goofy-looking Ukrainian with a name like Igor or Boris to do the honors. And everyone will promptly forget everything about him (just like no one remembers the name of the Russian who was the first man in outer space).

So, please, Mr. President. For the love of God, scrap the Mars mission. For many of us out here, it will be a really, really "bad trip."

January 26, 2004